Saying The Road Not Taken
Here I am saying The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost (1874–1963).
At the moment I am on holiday in Ireland. I am trying to memorize a poem every week. This is the second poem that I have learnt. It was rather difficult to recite it, as every time I have tried to recite it I was interrupted. I am in my parent’s house with lots of nieces and nephews and of course my own children. That is why I am reciting it hidden in my bed… Even still you can hear some children if you listen carefully, shouting in the distance, as I say it.
This poem was originally intended as a joke by Robert Frost to his friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas who was famously indecisive, especially on their walks together. This was when Frost lived in England for a short time.
Generally people imagine this poem to be the decision, made earlier in one’s life, about a road not taken. However, having spent some time with the poem you hear that
“and both that morning equally lay
in leaves no step had trodden black.”
So, in fact there is no real choice to be made. The general understanding of this poem, at least in popular culture, is that this choice was difficult and that the narrator made a choice “the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”. In fact, both routes are the same. You cannot make a real choice between them. In reality we know that there are rarely situations in which we fell there is a black or white choice.
Perhaps we see all these choices only in retrospect. As the narrator imagines himself somewhere in the future, sighing, regretting the route that he took.
Sometimes we don’t even see what choices there are. We imagine the choices afterwards.
As I was reading about Frost and learning the poem I found it a little difficult. It is beautifully written and yet there are no images really. A yellow wood, leaves that no step has trodden black and a road that bends into the undergrowth. That is what is so beautiful about this poem. It has structure and a stark, simple beauty. It is delightful to see how effortlessly Frost has put the spoken patterns into the meter “though as for that the passing there had worn them really about the same”.
Recently, I have been looking at Edward Hopper‘s paintings again. There are parallels between Hopper and Frost. Hopper was a 20th century painter yet like Frost he seems to have 19th century concerns. Everyone knows his work, at least superficially. We can see that his selection of reality is an interpretive one. His interests seems to be formal ones, also like Frost.
Everything in Hopper’s work is deceptively simple. For me it is fascinating to think that Hopper was also a contemporary of Pollock, de Kooning and Rothko. In the 40s and 50s abstract expressionism was the direction that painting took in America. The expression of the individual. The cool calculated approach of Hopper was no longer relevant.
Learning poems and saying them
It is easier to learn a poem with a rhyming scheme. I thinkthat I will be able to learn many poems. It is an interesting way of approaching a poem. You begin to get inside the poem.
However, I do not know what the point of this is. I do not really know why I am doing this. I think of it as a way of learning forms of poetry (stanzas, iambic tetrameter, etc) and maybe reproducing them in my own writing. Maybe that is what I will tell myself after…
It is hard to recite poetry. What I mean by that, is it is hard to just say a poem in a simple way so that you can hear the words and not the way it is being said. It is hard to say a poem to people.
I tried a couple of times, just in the middle of the day, just to say to somebody “would you like to hear a poem?” It is strange. Maybe we think of poems as being very personal. I know I am not sure if I would like someone to recite poems to me. It is an interruption. I want to know how long the poem will be. It’s like looking at a video on the web and being able to see the time that it will last. We have no attention span anymore.
What form? What for?
So I will just keep learning poems. It is a little like learning songs that no one will ever hear… Or the time spent looking at things that nobody ever knows. Going back to Hopper, you can see from his very detailed notes that he really imagined his paintings beforehand.
I always wonder how much artists really know before they do or make something. It is a mix of both approaches. We never really do know. Then we have to make a choice… And perhaps never do but make believe that we have made a choice afterwards.
So, enjoy the walk?
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost.